Details: Entry-level model from Earsquake
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $9)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down
Accessories (1/5) – single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (2/5) – The housings of the CRO are made out of lightweight plastic and seem fairly typical in build. The nozzle is protected by a metal mesh filter but the hard plastic stems lack strain relief. The cable is very plasticky and the chin slider won’t stay in place as a result
Isolation (3/5) – Surprisingly good for a vented dynamic
Microphonics (4/5) – Very low when worn cable-down, nonexistent cable-up
Comfort (4/5) – The shells are extremely lightweight and very easy to get fitted. They are rounded at the front but the stem has sharp edges that can contact the ear upon deep insertion, which is not a problem when the earphones are worn cord-up
Sound (4.2/10) – Earsquake clearly went for the ‘tell it like it is’ approach with the CRO, imbuing it with clarity worthy of far more expensive earphones but at the same time stripping it of the only way in which entry-level earphones can mask their flaws – the veil. The sound of the CRO is raw – hard-hitting bass, somewhat dry mids, and touchy but very prominent treble. I compared them mostly to the elago E3, which are my <$10 benchmark. While the elagos are far smoother and quite a bit easier on the ears overall, they sound extremely muffled and veiled next to the CRO. The bass impact of the CRO is sharper and more defined and the relative bass quantity seems greater despite the E3 actually having more bass weight.
The midrange of the CRO is in good balance with the bass and treble and generally impresses with detail and clarity. The treble, on the other hand, is very edgy and can be fatiguing at higher volumes. It’s a bit grainy and there are narrow spikes here and there in the response, making it sibilant with certain tracks. On the upside, top-end extension is decent. The presentation is airy and well-spaced. Due to the excellent clarity, the barrier between the listener and the music very commonly present in low-end earphones is absent with the CRO, adding to the raw, transparent sound signature. There’s not much of a soundstage but I still found myself enjoying this $9 IEM far more than I expected. For more laid-back listening I would definitely pick up one of the other good <$10 earphones but if clarity is a prime concern, the CRO is a hard one to beat.
Value (7.5/10) – For those who can handle the lack of refinement in the bass and treble, the CRO represents one of the best ways to spend $10 on an earphone. I’m a big fan of smooth sound but the clarity of the CRO won me over in the end, wiping the floor with the vast majority of my entry-level IEMs. Add to that isolation that’s surprisingly good for an entry-level dynamic, low microphonics, and lightweight and comfortable shells and a contender for the best <$10 earphone emerges.
Pros: Lightweight and comfortable, good isolation, low microphonics, good clarity
Cons: Very raw sound, can be harsh/sibilant